The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second time to win the season series ahead of their first round matchup in the playoffs next week. The Leafs hung on to win 4-3 thanks to goals from William Nylander, Luke Schenn, Calle Järnkrok, and Ryan O'Reilly on a night where Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Mark Giordano were all sitting.
- Joseph Woll - the rookie goaltender stopped 46 of 49 for his fifth consecutive win in an uplifting night for the present and future. According to NST, Woll faced 7.4 expected goals, including 16 shot attempts from Nikita Kucherov.
- Speaking of Kucherov, one man who has his lunch money is Jake McCabe, who blocked Kucherov on three potentially-game-tying occasions. McCabe finished the night with five blocks and anchored the final three minutes of the game as the Leafs held onto their lead with TJ Brodie in the box.
- Ryan O'Reilly and the rest of the defensive forward crew (Kämpf, Acciari, Kerfoot, Järnkrok, and Aston-Reese) were superb on the penalty kill as they held the Lightning scoreless on eight (8!) opportunities over 11 minutes and 24 shots against shorthanded. Justin Holl and TJ Brodie also spent seven minutes each on the kill. I cannot iterate enough the strength of the Leafs in the neutral and defensive zone late in the game. They were winning battles, blocking shots, passing lanes, and clearing pucks. All the things that you need to do. We've come so far in a decade, heck we've come so far in three years.
William Nylander loves playing against the Lightning and showed in this game his ability to steal pucks (three takeaways) and create deceptive chances on the overly committal Lightning defense. He scored and notched two assists for a three-point night in the win along with generating a team-leading 22 shots on the night.
Matthew Knies earned his first career point with a primary assist on ROR's game-winning goal. He nearly scored on the feed from Nylander's steal, but the puck needed ROR to get fully across the line. The rookie had four shots and two takeaways on the second line as he makes the case to be in the lineup. He might not get there right away, but he's in the mix.
The shorthanded Leafs, who were running only 17 skaters (and Conor Timmins at forward) got run into the ground by the Lightning's top forward unit. Point's line was 18-3 at 5v5. The silver lining is the Leafs didn't have their first line to counter. We'll see how things change when the playoffs actually start. It's astounding that the Leafs won the game despite the advantages the Lightning had. It should be a big source of confidence in the Buds that they can win even not on their best night. They can do this.
Also bad should be considered the penalties. The two teams combined for 52 penalty minutes and 14 power play opportunities. The only power play goal in the defensive showdown was on the Leafs side, which proved to be the difference. The referees were strict with the calls in this game, but they didn't really have to stretch any calls as the physicality was pointed from both sides. The players tried to set a tone, and the referees responded with not letting things go.
Definitely one of the more odd games of the season.